JOSEPH TIEGER Hello, I'm Joseph Tieger. Welcome again to Reaching Out.
This television presentation grows out of a course of community dialogues hosted by Ram Dass in Oakland California. A thousand people came together for ten evenings to understand what keeps us so separate and to find a more compassionate way to be with one another.
Those of us who originally conceived this project are European-American in background. Some very important learning took place for us, well before the public gatherings began, when we met with people from other racial and ethnic communities here in the Bay Area to invite them to participate.
One of the things we learned is that there can be pain as we begin to find our way toward each other. This is the pain that we might feel at the threshold of any profound healing process, and it arises here out of our shared history of racial and ethnic conflict, with its legacies of distrust and sheer lack of familiarity and comfort with one another.
There can also be intimations of great joy here as well, as we begin to appreciate strengths and beauty that we have not been able to see before, and start to imagine what we might be able to accomplish, once we can cross this threshold, together.
RAM DASS This course is being run in Oakland in an attempt to involve people in caring for other human beings. It became apparent we weren't going to get good representation from the whole Oakland community in terms of its demography--of who we are. So we decided to reach out to special groups to get to know them, and to talk to them about the possibility of their participation, and to find out what it is that they would like the course to be where it would be useful to them.
JOSEPH TIEGER The other piece of it that's relevant now is that I've been living in Oakland for about three or four years, and it's, it really has hurt me to realize how separated I've felt from all the other cultures that are part of our community. In a time when we're looking at citizen diplomacy with the Russians, or identifying with other species and not being so species-centered, we still don't know how to talk to each other across racial and ethnic and class lines. And it seems time to get on with it. The planet is in a very precarious place. And we need to know how to talk with one another--and to be with one another, and for one another--but don't know how. So that's what really gave rise to the conception for this project.
MARTÍN CANO What we've done here is create a forum to educate people outside of our community about us. Because, I mean, here we are, 25, what is it, 25.6% of the population now in California, and we're still not even known in California. That we exist, even, you know. We're invisible here. And we're invisible throughout the United States. People don't know we exist yet. So just coming together, I think, is kind of an event. Any other comments on it?
RAM DASS I'd just like to frame some questions and then leave it open and then just see where it goes because it's really your evening. I want to just listen and learn, actually. So, the kinds of things I want to know are, what's the interface between the Latino/Chicano community and the other communities you live with? The white community, the Asian community, Black. And then I want to ask you in what way a course in Oakland, concerned with the issue of compassion and the caring heart and how you care for other human beings, can serve some purpose in terms of your relationship to the larger community.
LUZ ALVAREZ MARTINEZ When Martín called me to invite me to this, I was very suspicious. I said, "OK, what's going on? Why is this white guy calling us together? Is he going to pick our brains--again--the way we've always had this happen to us?" And I gave him all my concerns. Why are we coming together because this guy's calling us together? You know, we do a lot of work within our communities. And right now I'm feeling, "Why are we here?" So you can get a lot of information from us? And it's like...why? I mean, why at this point are you bringing Latinos together for this group? I mean, what have you been doing the past 20 years about people of color and Latinos? Why now?
RAM DASS I can answer that, I mean, I don't want to...
LUZ ALVAREZ MARTINEZ I need some answers.
RAM DASS You need some answers, yeah. First of all, just the 'who am I?' My parents were born in Boston. I'm Jewish. My education was in psychology. I took my PhD at Stanford. I've taught at Harvard and Stanford and Berkeley.
In 1961 I got involved in research in altered states of consciousness when I was a professor at Harvard. And what that led me to was realizing that there was a whole spiritual dimension to life that I had not known as a cynical scientific westerner. And I looked at other human beings, and I saw that behind all of our differences, we're one being. We're one group of people. And I've spent 30 years trying to figure out how to put that together with the rest of my life. And I've spoken and written books for 20 years.
My sense now is that it is now dysfunctional for me to continue to focus only on those teachings that are only of interest to a certain sub-community. I feel now that I have to be part of that which breaks down barriers. And I'm learning. This is new for me.
ROBERTO VARGAS I'm glad that you've committed yourself to create opportunities for white people to become more compassionate, to be more involved. I see white people as people who have resources. They're able to make things happen with those resources. But then they've got to be committed to a higher purpose than themselves. So, I think that's important, that's good.
And it's taken me a lot of years to be able to work with white folks. I mean, there's a lot of pain that a lot of us have dealt with. But the reality is we've got to learn about how to heal each other, reach out to each other, and transcend a lot of our own angers.
And I think it's important that we use this arena to re-inspire each other, because all of us are doing good works in our own arenas. And we come together; let's re-inspire each other.
90% of us are Mestizos--somos Indios. And in Indio tradition it's like we come together as councils, and we're all equals, and we share our experience, and our experience is our teacher, and we teach each other. So I'm glad for this opportunity. I just look forward to all our sharing.
ANDRES MARES-MURO I'm a working class Chicano. I have never played the bureaucratic game well. All I know is that our people are groaning under the mantle, you know, that's laid on us. And your words about compassion, they sound really good. But I hope tonight maybe you can just open up a little bit, if that's what you're here for, and I trust that you are, and hear the stuff that's coming down.
JESÚS DE LA ROSA I'm just thinking back like when we started recognizing the term 'Chicano' and taking it for ourselves, and, to me, Chicano has always been, like, being bilingual and being bicultural. But your earlier question was, "How do we interface?" And I think it's by being bilingual and bicultural. The fact that we're all speaking English right now is a real good indication of that. And the way we do deal with the dominant culture is being able to switch, and deal in a linear and western way, and then go back to our communities, and do it our way. And, like, I think what you did at the beginning....Well, that's all part of conocimiento. We need to know you first, before we start anything happening. And that's the way it's done in our community and our culture.
And, you know, so, I think...when I was a graduate student at Berkeley, people kept saying, "Well, 'Jesús'--that's a real unusual name." No, it's not. It's very common. It's unusual in Berkeley. It's not unusual in the Southwest. And it's all part of that. Just even having that, holding on. Because most...the dominant culture wants to deal with us--and their idea of dealing with us is for us to be more like them.
MAGDALENA DE AVILA You know, in each one of us, therein lies a community. And it's something that, as a Chicana, coming from farmworker background, migrant farmworkers, that was instilled in me--as a result of my own experiential life and what I've gone through, and my parents and the community that I'm from, in terms of having to survive and struggle with the issues of survival--that have to be to better the essence of the community. It's not necessarily an individual focus, but rather, you know, "How do I change the circumstances and conditions of my gente, of my people?"
And for us, in terms of recognizing how we're working together as a people to change our circumstances, we also have to look at ourselves as a people, and not get caught in this very dangerous web that can pull on us and make us, you know, so materialistic, and just kind of pull us into this whole realm that we're struggling to change ourselves.
LINDA GONZALEZ You know, a lot of times people of color, we get together, and we're willing to share our cultures with each other. At least that's been my experience, that I've been willing to share my culture, and others have been willing to share with me. And white people for the past 500 years have virtually obliterated, have stomped on, have trashed, have destroyed, or have made attempts to destroy our cultures.
White people right now are taking salsa classes, are learning how to drum, have been ripping off indigenous spirituality. And it's with the same attitude that Columbus and Cortez arrived here with. So something has not changed. What is essential to change has not yet changed. That threat of exploiting and taking for oneself has not yet changed. So when white people want to learn about my culture, I get really pissed off. Because, damn it, when are white people going to learn that it's about an exchange? White people cannot come to people of color, and expect to get again, without like there being some kind of mutual exchange. Like white people need to find out what it is that they have of value--within themselves--that they can offer. That they can offer and give.
ANDRES MARES-MURO Their system is falling apart, it's crumbling, and we're caught up in it.
Like, on the TV the other night I saw the video of the Black man getting beaten up, kicked, by the LA police department, you know? And it's like nothing seems to change. It's like their attitudes are the same--20 years ago, a century ago, 200 years ago--and I don't know what it's going to take.
I mean, sometimes I've had this fantasy of what it would be like to be a white male in the seat of power. But never have I wanted to trade places with him. Because as poor as I've been, and as, you know, as powerless as I've felt, I've always been proud, somewhere in my heart, to be Chicano. Because I have something. And they're scrambling like rats on a ship. You know, you guys are in deep shit, man. There's something really, really wrong with the culture, or the pseudo-culture, that this society seems to want to perpetuate. Now it wants to spread it all over the world, you know. So, I don't know what it's going to take.
You're out of touch with your hearts, you're out of touch with your souls. I don't know what else to say. We've always met you more than half-way. We always have. We can't be the white man's burden; but you can't be our burden either. It's just that you guys got to figure out what it is that's going on that's sick in the culture that you're coming from.
LUZ ALVAREZ MARTINEZ You said you want to find a way to overcome the barriers. We didn't make those barriers.
RAM DASS I understand.
LUZ ALVAREZ MARTINEZ So the barriers aren't there coming this way. They're going that way, that the barriers are there.
ROBERTO VARGAS If the issue is barriers, if we've listened to everything we've said, we're saying, "We're holding on to a lot of anger." I mean, there's just a lot of hurt, and a lot of anger. So even if someone comes, and says, "Hey look, I want to facilitate a meeting," and "Be consultants to me, so that I can do something about it," we can't even get to that issue because we're sitting on a lot of anger. And that's a real part of our reality.
And I really believe in having to develop allies. The system, to address the ills in the system means allies, so it does mean connecting with him in such a way where he learns from us, and learns to respect us.
And in terms of working with other multi-cultural communities, I think we're finally learning the fact that we've got to connect. And that's when we're starting to connect with being people of color. But again we've got to find the courage to extend ourselves. Because negros connect with negros. We connect--and we feel comfortable--with each other. And it really takes a lot for us to reach out. And I think we've got to look at that. It's just a matter of, we haven't shared enough of the connecting. We need more opportunities to do the connecting. Because once it's done, you know, it's conocimiento again. We're sharing. A conoce allein mas. You say, "Hey, you know what? We share the same issues." But we haven't spent enough conocimiento time with Black hermanos, Asian hermanos, and that has to be done.
MARTÍN CANO There is a lot of this tension that exists between our people and other groups. And it's something that we don't like to look at. You know, all of us are saying, "Yeah, we want Third World unity, we want people of color to unite." And we're all in favor of it. But if you look in our community, you're not going to find that. I mean, you know you can go into San Quentin today and there's usually rioting going on, fighting going on, between Chicanos and Blacks, or between Chicanos and Asians, or between Chicanos and Whites. And that exists. Go into our schools today and you'll still find the same thing.
JUANITA DAVALOS We've got to get rid of the racism within our own groups. We can't interface with anybody if we continue to let our children grow up using ethnic slurs, racist comments, ethnic jokes. All that is disgusting to me. I don't want my daughter to have that in her life. Because of my work and my life in civil rights, I've been able to get rid of certain things, but it's taken...you know, my life may almost be over, you know, another twenty years or so. And it's taken me this long to be able to shed those feelings of hatred--not just for white people. But I came from New Mexico. The racism there was just like it is anywhere else, against the Indians, against Blacks. I don't want to just deal with the racism against us. I want to deal with our own racism, and what we put out there. And how we interface to really make the world a better place. And I think the only way we can empower ourselves is to get rid of our own feelings of anger and hatred for other people--without even knowing why we hate them.
NAOMI TORRES I began working with a white women's organization because I felt that the power that they had--as a Latina, I could go and take that power, and use my voice and speak for myself. And so, I was accepted in that as a person speaking--as a Latina. And I learned their strategies, I learned their ways. And then I went back to my community. And doors were closed to me, because I was speaking for a white women's organization. And so I felt completely raped. I felt like I gave my soul away to a white women's organization because I wanted to have a voice, and I knew that they had a voice, and I wanted to take that. And I went back to my community, and I wanted to say, "Hey, I have a voice. You know, let me say something." And some doors were open, yes, but a lot of them were closed. And I am not quite sure...a lot of that is defense mechanisms, that you just want to close up, and you don't want to be hurt by this oppression. I'm not quite sure how to fix that.
LINDA GONZALEZ We have a lot of work to do amongst ourselves. We struggle to not let racism continue to divide us. Because there's 'Hispanic,' which is a governmental term that is often times used to homogenize us, and we get split. There's 'Latino/Latina,' there's 'Chicano/Chicana,' there's 'Mexican,' there's 'Mestiza.' And all these terms have the potential to keep us separate from one another. And I made a decision that I don't care what anybody in this room, how they identify or what you call yourself, because I'm not going to let racism keep me from my people.
We are now beginning to heal ourselves and heal each other. And, as Roberto was saying, look at our culture, you know, again get re-acquainted with what's beautiful, what's been powerful, what has survived. What are the ancient threads here that keep us whole, that keep us spiritual, that keep us connected to the earth, that keep us kind and loving with one another? I mean, that allow us to forgive!
ENRIQUE MENDEZ FLORES Okay. Well, I have the privilege of working in a rural area. So, I am really on a daily basis in touch with those people that are really close to the earth. So, when they walk into our area seeking some sort of orientation, it's a real pleasure to hear--to hear.
I ask myself this question. "Will it be possible to teach somebody that the fact that I am frustrated and that when I speak I am angry, is because of what has happened to all those people that come and seek the right to work, the right to be educated, the right to have decent housing, and the right to have decent health services."
Now what does this mean to an individual such as this one [gestures toward Ram Dass] if I tell him, "Is there a way that your community stop beating us in the head each time we come across the border because I want to see my mother? Is there a way that I can avoid that a kid is shot in the back by a person who has taken the authority because Congress granted him that authority to shoot without any mercy, without any compassion?" And when I hear that word compassion, I say, "Compassion, wow!"
I think you can hear my desperation, you can hear my angriness. And I don't want to sound like that. I want to sound like some of you guys sound in here--very idealistic. You know, you want to talk about philosophy and that sort of thing. I can't.
MARTÍN CANO What you're saying is really, really important for us too. I mean, we're hearing what you're saying--and the reason you're here is because you present that point of view. We need to be told and reminded.
You know, when I first met Ram Dass and Joseph, they were talking about sending people from the seminar to work with homeless people and I questioned and told them, "You can't do that. You can't take middle-class white people and send them to work with us, you know. It won't work. They have to be educated. They have to get rid of some of their biases, some of their racism, some of their prejudice in order for them to bridge with us, to bridge that gap." And they listened to me. But even beyond them listening to me, I needed all of you here--and that's why I proposed this whole thing in the beginning--because it can't be just me saying it. It has to be us saying it. That white people have to get, have to work on their racism. They have to get over a lot of their racism, a lot of their prejudice before they can ever start working with us. We're working on it. We're open to it. And we know we have some problems about, I mean, I can't walk into a group of white people without feeling afraid that I'm going to get hurt again. And it happens still. That's the really terrible part. It still happens. It's not a dream. So, you know, if there's no other message that comes out of this it's that we've been hurt. And the healing, we're trying to heal--but white people have to deal with their racism.
RAM DASS I really know you in a new way because of this group. And I'm very touched by it, because this is a web of real respect here, and it's quite an honor to be part of that.
A rabbi I was interviewing recently--I was talking to him about the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue--and he said, "We have to learn to grieve with one another." And I really feel that you let me feel some of the pain. And that's part of our dialogue together. And that's a very rich and important experience--for me--and I thank you.
ROBERTO VARGAS Hello, I'm Roberto Vargas. I can imagine that for many of you watching, who are Euro-American or white, this program had its difficult moments. And I'm certain that many people of color are wondering whether anyone will really hear our experience. Yet, that's our challenge, to risk sharing, and also to listen to each other, learn from the exchange, and begin healing the hurt and division caused by prejudice and ignorance.
I want to say that out of this meeting, I decided to participate in Reaching Out, and the result was a significant healing step in which I, and many others, learned more about how to respect and care for each other. I believe we all can use these television broadcasts to inspire similar action. So let's reach out more to all people--those similar to us, and those of other cultures, national origins, abilities, and sexual orientations--and let their experience touch us. Together we can create a healthier community for all people.
Thanks again for exercising your staying power, and please join us for with the next Reaching Out program where we are challenged to connect more deeply with our hearts, and to strengthen our ability for caring.
Seems like there is no choice
Only a pawn in the game
It's all the same
You win and you lose
But still you choose
You know you do
It's up to you
Danger in paradise
Taking your turn
At the fire and ice
I'm just a stranger
©1998 Choice Point